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Forgiveness

Photo by Asaf Einy

Forgiveness is a difficult topic. On one hand, we feel that we have learned to forgive. On the other hand, we find ourselves resisting when we actually try to forgive someone.  Implementing forgiveness into our lives is a process.

Sometimes, things work in mysterious ways. Almost a year ago, I took a workshop on forgiveness. Some days, I would feel that I had learned how to forgive, and other days I felt that I had failed. The following is a story of a casual encounter with a stranger that reminded me of all that I have learned about forgiveness.

The other day I was walking my dog and, as I always do, I gave him a little water from the hose in front of someone’s house. I don’t know the owner of the house well. I met him once and I never asked him if I could do this. I always turn the hose off tightly and roll it back up leaving it exactly the way it was when I found it.

On this particular day, a woman I had never seen said to me, “What are you doing? Do you live there? Why are you using that hose?” I quickly retorted that I left it just the way it was and I wasn’t causing any harm to the hose or the homeowner. She told me I had no right to use the hose and gave me a dirty look and walked away.

I was so annoyed by this event. It spoiled my walk because I felt I had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t any of her business.

I even followed behind her as she kept walking away. But, then I started thinking about this workshop I had taken last April about forgiveness. There were two main points that stuck in my head: you don’t know what the other person is going through and if you hold anger, it takes away from your own joy. It is not just for the other person that you forgive, but for yourself, so you don’t waste your life angry with someone or continue to hold a grudge.

Now, obviously, this was on a much smaller scale than those heart wrenching times where we need to forgive someone in our life and it causes us great pain, but I decided to try the mode of thought recommended in this forgiveness workshop.

I thought maybe this woman is right. If she lives in this neighborhood, she could be protecting a neighbor of hers. I thought maybe she is having a bad day. And, then, I thought I don’t want to lose the joy that I have walking my dog on this beautiful day. I am going to let this go.

The next thing I knew, she was walking towards me and I thought now I am in trouble. Instead she said, “I am sorry. Giving your dog water is not a big deal. It’s just that I am on the landscaping committee of this housing area and so many people who don’t live here don’t clean up after their dogs and I am at a loss to figure out why they can’t be more responsible. It really aggravates me”.

I had already calmed down and told her I had been rethinking things and I was sorry. She had every right to watch out for her neighbors and she had no idea if I would take care of the hose or leave it running and cause problems. In addition, I didn’t live there.

She introduced herself with a smile and I did the same. It was the strangest experience as this is not normally how I handle things or how they work out. Most of the time, I can be a real bitch.

I bring this up in a long winded way because I think the most important thing you can do in 2011 is forgive someone who you feel has wronged or hurt you.

Not all of us, but most of us have experienced pain from a relationship with a friend or family member or someone with whom we work.

The memories of the pain or even continuing meetings with someone sit deep in our souls and eat away at us.

We don’t want to forgive because it feels like forgetting the wrong and we feel like the other person’s behavior doesn’t deserve to be condoned.

The workshop I took was called, “Forgive for Good” by Dr. Fred Luskin. Dr. Luskin teaches at Stanford and this is also the name of his book that I highly recommend to you.

In many ways, I think this workshop was life changing for me and I am still working on incorporating the concept into my life.

Dr. Luskin validates your right to feel hurt. He is not in anyway saying to ignore it. What he says is that dwelling on the hurt is taking away from your quality of life and damaging your health.

There had been someone in my life over the last few years who, although they had been a dear friend in the past, had betrayed and disrespected our friendship. As Fred says, “Forgiveness is making peace with the word No“.

That was the problem for me. I didn’t want to hear “no”. I was angry and I blamed this person, but in the end, I have come to realize that the way I was handling my hurt and anger was really preventing me from truly enjoying my life and moving forward.

And, if I was honest with myself, I would know that there were other issues going on in the other person’s life and it was not all about the problem in our friendship. Outside factors were affecting their behavior and probably mine.

This post is long today because 2011 is in its infancy and all things are possible, even changing our attitudes.

The “Forgive for Good” workshop inspired me to move on from hurt and blame. Forgiving was more for me to make a better life and not so much to absolve the other person of what I perceived to be their wrongdoing. It wasn’t about letting the other person off the hook and forgetting what they had done.

One of the 9 Steps of Forgiveness that is found on Dr. Luskin’s website is the following:

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their actions. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the peace and understanding that comes from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”

Finding peace is the key and I found “Forgive for Good” to be incredibly helpful in this process.

I wish you all the ability to find peace in the New Year and I hope part of that process will be forgiving for good.

It is not an easy thing to do and I am still a work in progress.

* What are your thoughts on Forgiveness? Share your wisdom and story with us in the comment section

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About the author

Denise is a Stanford grad and a non-practicing attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been writing a blog for the last year and three years ago created a nationwide women's network to help those who are going through life's difficult transitions. She is a firm believer that we all go through tough transitions, but it's easier to do it together.

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26 thoughts on Forgiveness

  1. Lisa

    Wow, this article is what I need right now. I’m going through a rough time with a friend, whom at times seems to be very difficult to handle and understand. I tried to reach out to help but keep pushing me away! note that this happened several times already. I was hurt when he did that and as a consequence I become miserable myself. I don’t want to harbor any ill feelings but i am terribly hurt. Giving him his own space is what he needs right now (probably).
    It is so true that when we feel hurt and angry it robs us of our own joy. Hope to find forgiveness in my heart for my own well being. It’s eating me and consuming me bit by bit.
    May I learn to forgive. . .

  2. Hi Denise,
    This post is very wise. Forgiveness is a tough one. I’ve learned alot about forgivness. I’ve found that you cannot have forgiveness without acceptance. Acceptance is giving up the hope that someone will change. All too often we hang our hopes on someone changing and being better. This can lead to profound dissapointment. Getting past hurt is easier than getting past betrayal. A snide comment is nagging, but a betrayal is soul deep. Acceptance and forgivenss is a gift we give to ourselves. Thanks so much Denise. I can’t wait to check out your blog!

  3. Spencer

    Thank you for writing this. I have learned a lot about forgiveness, and its evil twin, resentment. It is almost impossible to forgive while holding onto resentment (holding a grudge). I have learned two sayings that have helped me immensely.

    “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

    “Forgiving means letting go of the hope of a better yesterday.”

    The first reminds me that my anger and resentment is only hurting me, as you say. The second tells me that not even God can change the past, and that my reluctance to forgive is denying that simple fact.

    Truly, forgiveness is a gift to myself.

  4. Misty

    Very good message about forgiving. Sometimes, in our resistance to forgive others, the only person we are preventing from healing or moving forward is ourselves. Live your life with few regrets, forgive others when you have been wronged and stay true to that path of happiness…

    On a side note, if I had been the owner of that home and you were using my hose to give your dog water (regardless of if you put it back in the condition you found it)…I probably wouldn’t waste my energy coming out to tell you so…but wouldn’t be real keen on it since we were not on a personal level. Perhaps you should wear a backpack on your walks with a large bottled water for times when your dog gets thirsty instead of going on someone else’s property and using their water they pay a bill for. If something malfunctioned and you broke something, it might make for an awkward situation.
    Nit picky? Just a tad… ;)

  5. Abby

    Love it. Forgiveness is about letting go. You don’t have to be friends with that person again. You can still enforce your boundaries with that person but then when you forgive them you can now do it from your heart. When you stop talking about the past hurts and blaming you can free up that energy to create great things.

    Thanks for posting this.

  6. Great post, thank you. :)

  7. Denise

    Thank you so much to all of you who have written in with your comments. I learned a lot about myself by writing this article, but I have learned even more with your insightful feedback.

  8. Denise, what clear writing! Forgiveness is such a difficult topic (in my experience anyways), and you provide practical ideas we can relate to.

    Forgiveness sometimes eats at me too. However, I feel I don’t forgive myself enough. It becomes guilt and colors my interactions and relationships. Sometimes I just have to let go. Sometimes, as you suggest, I need to see a different perspective.

    Your story hit home. Thank you for sharing it.
    Namaste,
    Leigh

  9. I heard Jack Kornfield say “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” That really helped put it into perspective for me.

  10. fern

    Very good post.

    The first thing this made me think of was a phone conversation i had with a friend about 3 years ago. We were discussing our summer vacation plans, and when she told me she and her husband were planning on spending some time in Vegas before heading to the Grand Canyon, I disparaged Vegas and said, rightly or wrongly, there wasn’t much to do there besides gamble.

    She got very upset with me and did not accept my apologies. We’ve never spoken again. I was totally mystified why this got her so upset, and as time went by, got more and more angry that she was apparently willing to sacrifice a high school friendship (we’re both 51 now) over such a trivial comment.

    I regret the loss of this friendship and sometimes still find myself wondering what happened, but now there is anger tinged with that regret becus in my mind, she had no grounds for reacting the way she did. But who knows what else was happening in her life that day. Maybe there were other aspects of our friendship….or me…that she wasn’t happy with but hadn’t expressed.

    • What about reaching out to get in touch with her now? See how she is doing? Tell her you miss her. Be genuine.

      I had some high school “enemies” as a teenager. We did horrible things to each other. And then I found these two girls on facebook a few years ago (10 years later), and shot them both emails. One girl immediately apologized for “being an ignorant little brat”. And I apologized to another girl, and she did the same. We totally cleared the anomosity between us. It was so beautiful. We’re all mothers now, and connect regularly on facebook.

  11. What a lovely and powerful post. Such a universal concept here … that we forgive others (and ourselves) in order to move on and embrace positivity and the moment. I have to remind myself of this often.

    Thank you for your words. You are a wise woman.

    Juliana

  12. True indeed. Forgiveness can be very hard most of the time. But to habour unforgiveness is even harder!

    Muren @
    feng shui master, singapore

  13. Kellie

    This is the first time I have ever visited this topic, but seeing that I have almost hit rock bottom in my emotional life, I decided to give it a try. I am not a church-going person, so have always avoided this topic as I avoided church. Or religion in general. But you choose new paths when you have nowhere else to turn, right? Surprisingly, I am beginning to understand that forgiveness is not just a “church term.” It’s a growth term. It’s a life fulfillment term. And it is a door that may allow me to open a new path, if I can just turn the knob.

    Not easy to do when you had strangers put you over $100,000 in debt because they sold you your dream house that ended up basically falling apart 3 weeks after you, your husband, and your 9 month old son moved in. It has been a very emotional and wrenching journey through the world of bad credit, maxed credit cards, extra jobs, lawyers, depression and an almost ruined marriage. The last one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Already looking at bankruptcy, we cannot afford a lawsuit, even though we have been assured we will win. I am angry, hurt, depressed, and so full of sorrow that I have become this mess of a person.

    This idea feels like a glimmer of light…perhaps this path that I am on is not going to lead anywhere but to more misery, and eventually complete regret for wasting my life seeking revenge. Perhaps I need to stop in my tracks, forgive, and start over fresh. It is not going to be easy. Not at all. But at least I might be able to enjoy my family while we are still young and my baby is still a baby. I never want him to feel the emotions I have had to go through. And I want him to know his mommy for what I once was, not the depressed wreck I am.

  14. Nsiah

    Great post! Forgiveness, if you like, is rendering kind service to one’s self. It is another way of showing love to the self. Because, refusal to forgive is like introducing cancer into one’s body and allowing the cancer to eat away one’s peace and comfort. Being stingy about forgivess is comparable to a refusal to expose one’s self to joy that is there for the taking. In practical terms, your refusal to forgive does not deny the offender his/her sleep. It is you that are afflicting yourself with insomnia.

  15. Forgiveness is a positive selfish act. Forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s about us. It’s about no longer holding onto something that is damaging to our mental state. Forgiving someone releases the emotional bondage that we have been holding onto, it doesn’t mean that we are to embrace the person who wronged us. When the act of forgiveness is complete, when you think about the perceived wrong, it no longer affects you in a negative light.

  16. Oneness

    We are All the same! We are One with everything. We will begin to SEE the Oneness thru Forgiveness.

    Forgiveness allows our minds to be freed from the chains of improper thought or fear thoughts.

    Forgiveness, Being of “God”, eliminates fear, allowing you to SEE the reality of Heaven that “God” created. Forgiveness is the seed of love. Plant the seed of forgiveness in your heart and you will experience a life most will find unbelievable. Jesus was hard to believe; And that is why he was crucified. He told people, you do not die! He went on to say, you reside in heaven, YOU Are In Heaven, Now! His forgiveness allowed him to know “God” without any fear. He saw “God” and “God’s” creation in everyOne he saw. He then knew that he was One with everything and everyOne. He knew he was One with the ones who persecuted and eventually killed him. When he told the world, YOU! “Forgive them they do not know what they are doing, he was not only talking to the ones who were killing him, he was also speaking to the ones watching this insanity take place.

    When you understand to take the life of someone else (regardless of what you ‘think’ about them) is the same as telling “God”, “You goofed God, we have to kill this One.” When you understand that taking the life of another or judgeing another is insanity. You will understand the Power of FORGIVENESS.

    Forgiveness allows you to See clearly and that you DID Not See clearly prior to forgiveness entering into your heart; And you judged “God’s” creation wrongly before forgiveness was accepted.

    There are two worlds here and now! Yes, two’; The one Jesus was pointing to and was teaching us to SEE and the one you see now. Jesus does not teach the denial of death, sickness, dis-ease, or your enemy’s. Jesus teaches us that when you practice what he taught, and fear is eliminated in your life, you SEE that death and everything that follows it was Never REAL!

    Reality dawns upon a forgiving mind. Reality is Heaven Now. An unforgiving and judgemental mind is shown a reality that does not exist except in the mind that ‘thought’ it did.

    “When fear is eliminated, Heaven comes to take its place!”

    Love your brother,

    David

    More to follow. . .

  17. Nic

    Hi, I am very glad to have chanced upon your article. It is inspirational to read examples of how forgiveness had actually enhanced your life. In your case, a turn of thoughts created more pleasant surroundings almost immediately.

    My story – my husband’s had an affair and we’re on separation now.

    Deep within me, i feel the anger and betrayal but also a guilt. As some would say, a husband need not stray if he is truly happy at home. I think I have failed, hence he strayed. Hence, I am indirectly responsible. But that doesn’t condone his actions; my guilt merely helped to buff the needle he pierced in my heart.

    Therefore, I want to embark on the journey of forgiveness,to release myself and to find peace within me. But I think my husband is not ready to forgive himself and he don’t know how to face me. We have alot of work to do, and hopefully, he’ll come round and see how we still share a common goal for the future.

    Thank you for sharing this, it is beneficial as a reminder on the continued process of forgiveness. All the best to you!

  18. I feel like a new born learning how to cope with feelings again and My head is feeling very clear and a strange calmness.I have been storeing up anger with my parents and an x partner for a long time and with my health and worry over my son and guilt over physicaly hurting a couple of people has given me a breakdown and its been like this since I was 18 maybe younger my sister had a breakdown also and I have recomended this site to her with the hope that she will find peace of mind.I have put up so many barriers in my life I thought that this was the best way to cope with what has happend to me.WRONG WAY.As now I know I have been learning to bottle things up to the point that I snapped and totaly cracked up and cut my face up and throat and done other things that I am to ashamed to write down.I have been asking for help since my teenage years and was never given the help untill the last couple of years I became addicted to heroin and asked for help now I am waiting to see a forensic phyciatrist.I had one breakdown and put in a hospital but after 3 weeks I walked out and had to go to court and had a prison sentence which strangely enough made me better for a while I think it was being away from my parents they stayed together for 30 years when they should of gotten devorced when I was 6.That was when the violence started and name calling.I think the mind can play cruel tricks on ones self at times I couldnt look at people in the eyes as there would frighten me the eyes would look so vivid and freaky that was the worse I have ever been.I hope I never go through that again.Meditating is a really good trhing to take up I wish I new about it years ago.I would like to know what you think tina su if you have the time.

  19. But if forgiveness means to let go, does not means that you should go from that person who you forgave him!
    Forgiveness means to look good with him and to continue to live well!

  20. peter henderson

    Dr. Luskin’s view as a psychologist is that forgiving other people is in your interest. This may be a worthwhile observation if sometimes untrue. But it doesn’t touch the moral question, which is whether one OUGHT to forgive others, why, and when. If the only reason you forgive someone is that it will make YOU happier you’re not really forgiving them in the moral sense: you’re just engaging in a feel-good strategy. Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and forgive them just as we would want to be forgiven. Forgiveness acknowledges that we are all imperfect and that we ought to love other people despite their faults rather than punish them for the sake of punishing. It is not necessary to deny that the faults exist (or existed) for then there would be nothing to forgive. But in order to receive forgiveness,, one must acknowledge one has done something that is wrong. One must feel remorse, vow to change, and follow through on that vow. btw, using someone else’s garden hose without asking permission is wrong in my view, unless there is some emergency or there is no way for you to contact them to ask.

  21. I really liked the insight that I saw in this article because, just some days ago, I was participating in a challenge and in that challenge one of the tasks was to forgive someone in your life. I’ve always held a certain sense of dislike towards a person I know who has hurt my feelings tremendously and is very uncaring and mean.

    I was battling to forgive this person but my problem was–that to me the act of “forgiving” was something you’d only do if the other party who has hurt your feelings verbally told you the words “Will you forgive me?” (This is figurative speaking by the way.)

    Any other way I really didn’t find any reason why you should forgive someone if they hadn’t asked me to forgive them? What was the point of forgiving them if they didn’t knew?

    I was confused and I wanted to do the day’s task and I trust in the articles of ThinkSimpleNow so I came here for aid and with this article I was able to gain an insight that had never crossed my mind before. ‘Other people have their own problems and sometimes the reason they get mad at you isn’t directly related to you so what right to we have to be mad at them when they have their own problems. We can never know 100% what this other person is going through or what stressed have built up.”

    This is the lesson I extracted from this article and I am grateful to you for opening my eyes in this way. It was not till I read such words that I wasn’t able to truly start the process of forgiving the person that has hurt me the most.

  22. nat

    this article was interesting. i appreciate the lessons learned in your workshop on forgiveness. what i really appreciate is commenter peter henderson bring it all back into perspective by reminding us of why we should forgive. it is because we have all fallen short and will all need and ask for forgiveness and therefore, who are we to deny someone else forgiveness.

    i also agree w/ peter in that – walking onto someone else’s property to use something that they own is wrong. if you do it in the wrong neighborhood or at the wrong house, you may encounter someone who is not the forgiving type.

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